If Jeff Jarvis' name isn't immediately familiar, you may recall Ed Brill's post from about a year ago, highlighting Jeff's about-face after his webcast had made fun of Howard Stern's use of Lotus Notes. Now, in an article on Huffington Post, Jeff Jarvis says about the Circles feature of Google+, "We don't come to social services to hide secrets; that would be idiotic. We come to share." He goes on to say "600 million people can't be wrong. We are sharing a billion things a day on Facebook alone because we want to, because we find value in it. That's where the discussion should begin, with the power of publicness, not with the presumption of privacy. "
This is a superficial and short-sighted view. 600 million people may not be wrong, but are they as satisfied as they could be? Are they sharing as much as they could be? What is their major complaint about Facebook, if not privacy?
Almost ten years ago, I wrote an article on notes.net about field encryption in Lotus Notes. In the first two paragraphs, I talked about why the presumption of privacy was such a crucial aspect of the early success of Lotus Notes:
Since its first release more than ten years ago, Lotus Notes has been the premier solution for sharing information in a corporate environment. From day one, the developers at Iris Associates realized that for sharing to be successful, there had to be a strong security system in place so that sharing could be limited.
That sounds a bit paradoxical, but it reflects a basic reality: users won't put information into a system if they don't trust that the system will only give that information to the right people. One of the key concepts that the developers of Notes understood was that although programmers and system administrators are very cool, upstanding, and important people, some users don't necessarily want to have to trust them with all their information.
This principle applies just as much to public systems as it does to corporate systems. It applies just as much to social networks as it did to Lotus Notes. It is a fundamental principle for all social software. It's certainly nothing new.
Early in my career, way back before there was even a Lotus Notes 1.0, when private email systerms were the state-of-the-art in information sharing, I stopped shipment of a new releaase of a successful corporate email system because of a single bug report from one alpha tester of one message that had been delivered to the wrong recipient. I spent the next three weeks in a lab with two colleagues working to develop a theory about how it had happened (it was due to an unsigned value being treated as signed, believe it or not), build a test environment to prove the theory and reproduce the problem at will (that was actually the really hard part!), implement a fix, and verify it. Management agreed to stop shipment without any estimate of how long it would take to find and fix the problem because they knew the repercussions of a loss of trust in privacy of information.
600 million Facebook users aren't wrong, but they are not sharing as much as they could be willing to share, and Google knows this. It's a smart move for Google because it recognizes that there is information that we want to share with family, there is information we want to share with professional colleagues, there is information that we want to share with classmates, and there have been no substantial advances in meeting that need since the invention of email lists. Google knows that Facebook is phenomenally successful but has a problem because it is set up for over-sharing, and that contributes to under-sharing. Google knows that this is a weakness that can draw users to Google+ if Facebook doesn't respond. Of course, Google+ doesn't go as far as to implement end-to-end encryption so it's not going to be as trusted as it could be either, but it's a public system and that level of security would be counter to Google's goal of exploiting the data to generate advertising revenue. It's still a step in the direction of more sharing, and it's disconcerting that Jeff Jarvis doesn't understand or value this.